When I consider what to cook for dinner, I often begin by choosing a single ingredient that either inspires me or intimidates me. And then I cook with the ultimate goal of making that ingredient taste like the best possible version of itself.
Most will agree that celery root is more intimidating than inspiring; with a mess of hairy roots, it looks more like a lumpy softball than a vegetable. I decided to cook with it this past week because it’s abundant and inexpensive right now, but also for a deeper reason: While anyone can serve lobster or filet mignon and have it taste good, successfully turning an ingredient like celery root into something glorious is an exhilarating experience. Seriously.
The first step to cooking an intimidating ingredient is reflection: I try to remember experiences I have had with the ingredient, its tastes and smells. When we let our taste memories influence and inspire us, our food will taste better. I remembered an instance when I felt unsatisfied after eating large, watery pieces of roasted celery root. I recalled a purée that was rich and decadent. These memories pushed me toward a slow cooking process and the consolidation of flavor. I decided to make soup.
Once you've got the cooking method down, what's the next step for cooking with an unfamiliar, intimidating ingredient? Figure out which flavors will naturally complement the thing that is scaring you; for this, I love to point people toward The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. But inspiration is all around you: Ask a vendor at your local market; turn to your favorite cookbooks; browse our recipes.
I cooked the celery root with apple and tarragon because I wanted the soup to taste clean and subtle, but I could have just as easily used louder flavors, like pear and rosemary or bacon and dill.
Next time I might.
- Olive oil
- 2 small yellow onions, sliced
- 2 pounds celery root, trimmed and peeled, cut into a medium dice
- 2 apples
- 1 clove garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- 6 sprigs tarragon, plus 2 tablespoons reserved chopped tarragon leaves for garnish
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- 6 cups water